Aiming to change what a growing number view as unfair restrictions on its athletes, the Pac-12 Conference Monday announced some reforms that include guaranteeing four-year scholarships, increasing the period during which athletes can receive medical care, allowing former players to return to school to finish their degrees and giving students a say in the conference’s governance structure.
“I think in a lot of ways, this stuff is overdue,” said California coach Sonny Dykes during Tuesday’s weekly conference call among coaches.
- Starting in 2015, all financial aid agreements offered will last no fewer than four academic years, putting an end to the current structure, which requires scholarships be annually renewed.
- Effective in 2016, athletes that complete at least 50 percent of their courses and leave the school “in good standing” can return and earn a degree under the terms of the original scholarship — with the university footing the bill.
- Beginning in 2015, Pac-12 schools are responsible for paying any medical expenses from documented injuries the athlete incurs while competing for up to four years after the athlete leaves school.
- Under the previous system, athletes who transferred to another school within the conference faced scholarship restrictions during their first year. Those regulations are no more, effective immediately.
- Player representatives will take a role in the conference’s governance structure by participating in Pac-12 council meetings.
The conference also plans to continue to explore “strengthening protections against excessive time demands of intercollegiate athletics.”
“This set of reforms addresses various health and financial concerns that student-athletes have expressed to me in the many conversations I’ve had with them, while preserving the essence of the collegiate experience that has served so many student-athletes so well,” said commissioner Larry Scott.
The changes followed a list of suggestions submitted in May 2014 by a group comprised of presidents and chancellors from around the conference.
“This fulfills a promise we made when we announced our agenda for reform earlier this year,” said Washington State University president Elson S. Floyd, chairman of the conference’s CEO Group. “These reforms assure better support for all our student-athletes, reinforce that academics come first, and address the financial and health needs of our students.”
In January, the 64 schools from the five power conferences — included are the Pac-12, SEC, Big 12, Big 10 and ACC — plus Notre Dame and 15 student-athletes will vote on setting the “full-cost-of-attendance” stipend. This coming after the NCAA in August voted to give the “Power Five” conferences autonomy to set many of their own rules.
Estimates have the “full-cost-of-attendance” stipend range between $2,000 and $5,000. Monday, the Pac-12 “reaffirmed their support” for such a measure.
As did Washington coach Chris Petersen.
“I think the stipends are great,” Petersen said Tuesday. “I think for some of these kids, it’s really tough to make ends meet.”
Washington State coach Mike Leach came out against the idea of a four-year guaranteed scholarship this summer at Pac-12 media day, a point he reinforced after Tuesday’s practice, according to Jacob Thorpe of The Spokesman Review.
“If in your job you don’t meet certain criteria, they’re going to get rid of you,” Leach said, before affirming that he liked the Pac-12 requiring players meet academic requirements to keep their scholarships.
While UCLA coach Jim Mora took pains to praise the new measures, Petersen pointed out that guaranteeing a four-year scholarship isn’t a big deal for him, given that he rarely fails to renew one before a player graduates.
“I think the four-year guarantee is really not that big of deal,” said Petersen. “If guys are eligible, doing the right things academically and staying out of trouble, they should be on scholarship the whole time.”
Mora added the new rules might give Pac-12 coaches an advantage in recruiting against other power conferences.
“I think the Pac-12 has been and continues to be at the forefront of reform for student athletes,” he said. “I think the things that they passed are tremendous for the conference.”